What do we do when someone we trust or look up to betrays our trust? What do we do when an authority figure in an important area of life lets us down? It could be the failure of a political leader, but it could also be a mentor who makes a sexual pass at their mentee, a caregiver who abuses their ward, a teacher who publicly shames a student in front of the class, or a boss who passes an employee over for a promotion or takes credit for their work. How do we handle that disappointment?
Fewer things hurt more than being betrayed by someone we trust. It might make us insecure, pessimistic, and skeptical. It can hinder our ability to trust others. Betrayal Trauma is a term for a reaction that occurs when a person who depends on another person or institution in authority or leadership violates that person’s trust. The trauma can affect our brain and body. Added stress can lead to an increase in adrenaline and cortisol that can damage the body and cause it to prematurely break down. Our bodies aren’t designed to handle long-term stress and anxiety.
Once a trust has been broken, it’s difficult to rebuild. Your brain recognizes betrayal as pain. In fact, the same areas of the brain are activated where the pain is emotional or physical. Your fear center is stimulated and remains stimulated which leads to feelings of restlessness, defensiveness, and nervousness. Many people find it hard to sleep or make intelligent decisions. When your fear center is activated, it takes over your day-to-day functioning abilities. It is known as Complex, Dynamic, Multi-Dimensional Betrayal Trauma.
Human beings rely on trust for our survival. So when we find that our trust has been betrayed, what do we do?
Stay calm and assess the situation
Know that not everyone will betray you. If someone you trusted disappoints you, stay calm and assess the situation. Some people might not know that they’re betrayed. According to Dennis Reina, psychologists and author of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, 85% of workplace betrayal is unintentional. That doesn’t make the situation any less painful. Take time to determine whether the action was deliberate or unintended. That will dictate your next steps.
Ask yourself : What do I really want?
When faced with the disappointment of someone you trusted, it’s a good time to be clear about what you want. Hold the person accountable for their actions. If your boss took credit for your work, have a frank conversation. If you work with someone who continues to betray you, make a plan to move on. This person’s actions may or may not be intentional, but you don’t deserve to live with negativity.
You can only control your reactions
Know that you have no control over outside forces. You can’t control the weather, what people think of you, or what they do. You only have control over how you react. If someone betrays your trust, that’s on them. You have control over what you do about it. Find another job. File a complaint. Vote someone out of office. Move on. The choice is yours.
It’s natural to want retribution if someone wrongs you. Don’t be tempted to stoop to their level. If someone has committed a crime, of course, justice must be served. But don’t let negativity get the better of you. We’ve all heard the expression “what goes around comes around.” Karma has a way of leveling the playing field. Remember what Michelle Obama said… “When they go low, we go high.” Live those words. You’ll feel better and be a better person for it.
When all else fails, cut ties.
Whether you choose to forgive depends on the severity of the betrayal and your relationship with whomever broke your trust. One thing to consider is how often this trust is broken. If the behavior is habitual, then you’ll know this person thinks they can betray you and get away with it. You can bet that things won’t change. That’s when you have to be strong. Know that you deserve respect. You won’t ever get respect from others if you don’t respect yourself.
At some point in our lives, there’s a good chance we may feel betrayed by someone in an authority position that we trusted. If that happens, draw on your inner strength, listen to your gut, and never lose sight of your values. Don’t let this experience get you down. The storm of disappointment will subside.
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